All the Money in the World makes for a solid dramatic thriller, but falls short when it comes to being an insightful biopic about John Paul Getty.
All the Money in the World is the latest directorial effort from Ridley Scott and the filmmaker’s second release in 2017, following this past spring’s Alien: Covenant. The true story of the Getty kidnapping in the 1970s might be a far cry from Scott’s recent sci-fi projects, but the director is no stranger to historical drama/thrillers of this variety. All the Money in the World is in fact the second docudrama that Scott has made that’s set primarily in the ’70s, with the other being 2007’s American Gangster. Both movies are similar in another respect too – namely, they are both biographical films about real life men of power, whose lives are explored through the lens of genre. All the Money in the World makes for a solid dramatic thriller, but falls short when it comes to being an insightful biopic about John Paul Getty.
In 1973, then 81-year old oil tycoon and Getty Oil founder John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is estimated as being the richest man in the world. On the night of July 10 that same year, Getty’s grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) – who is sixteen at the time – is kidnapped at the Piazza Farnese in Rome and taken hostage, with the ransom set at $17 million. John’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), having divorced John’s father a couple years before then, quickly reaches out to Getty thereafter, in the hopes that he will pay the cost to save his grandson’s life. However, much to Gail’s shock and dismay, Getty publicly refuses to shell out even a cent to John’s kidnappers.
Instead, Getty has his business manager and former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) assist Gail and serve as Getty’s advisor on the situation – in order to allow Getty to make the decisions that will best serve his own interests. Gail, who has no interest in either Getty’s massive fortunate or allowing her family to be a pawn in his schemes, does her best to convince Fletcher to prioritize her son over his boss’ concerns and get John returned safely, before his kidnappers hurt him and, eventually, kill him. As the clock ticks, John’s situation grows more and more complicated by the day, and thus begs the question: exactly what will it take to get the man who has “all the money in the world” to do the human thing, anyway?
All the Money in the World was written by screenwriter David Scarpa (the 2008 version of The Day The Earth Stood Still), based on John Pearson’s 1995 non-fiction book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty”. The film’s narrative jumps around in time at the very beginning – in order to establish both how John Paul Getty made his fortune and how his grandson, John Paul Getty IIII, became an important part of his life – but unfolds in a linear fashion thereafter, zeroing in on the younger John Getty’s kidnapping. Most of the major twists and turns that the plot takes from there are interesting enough to create a proper sense of tension and suspense, even for those viewers who are familiar with the broader strokes of the real story going in. Unfortunately, while the subject matter presented here is certainly intriguing and relevant as ever, All the Money in the World just doesn’t dig deep enough into the story’s players (especially, John Paul Getty and his warped priorities) to make for a compelling character study.
Christopher Plummer, as most everyone reading this no doubt knows, was brought in for last-minute reshoots to replace original star Kevin Spacey in the wake of Spacey’s sex abuse scandal. The Oscar-winner Plummer helps to flesh out the film’s thinly sketched portrayal of the elder J. Paul Getty with his performance and prevents the character from coming off as a caricature of a powerful old man (as he easily could’ve) with his naturalistic acting approach. All the Money in the World doesn’t go far enough with its examination of what makes Getty tick, nor how being a lifelong businessman has skewed his perspective to the point of making him seem soulless from the outside. At the same time, the film doesn’t come off as too ham fisted in its simple political commentary and peeks behind the curtain enough to make Getty feel (depressingly) like a real person.
Ultimately, All the Money in the World is more of a showcase for Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty than it is for any of the other actors playing main characters here. Nevertheless, Williams brings a quiet dignity and resilience to the role of Gail Harris, especially in the scenes where she is forced to put on a polite face and appeal to Getty’s humanity for the sake of her son, rather than react honestly to his often heartless and sometimes downright cruel behavior. Wahlberg is also solid here, playing a real life person who’s almost always in control and yet adheres to a much grayer moral/ethical code than the everyday heroes that the actor has taken to playing in true story-based docudrama/thrillers of late. Charlie Plummer (no relation to his onscreen grandfather) is less developed as Getty III, though the film does take the time to establish him as an intelligent young man in his own right. Beyond those four leads, French actor Romain Duris gets the most substantial role here as Cinquanta, one of John’s captors who unexpectedly forms a bond with his young hostage.
From a directorial perspective, Scott and his frequent collaborators – including, cinematographer Darius Wolski and production designer Arthur Max – succeed in making Getty’s world come off as garish and ostentatious rather than dazzling, through their use of muted colors and heavy shadows. All the Money in the World expresses the unpleasantness of its story and characters through its visuals, relying heavily on moody lighting and emphasizing the unflattering details of the people and locations that it visits (especially during one soon to be infamously gruesome sequence). There are times when the film is a bit rough around the edges in terms of editing and camera shots, possibly as a result of Scott moving a little too quickly through his movie productions nowadays. However, when it comes to integrating the reshoot footage of Christopher Plummer with the rest of the film, All the Money in the World does a largely seamless job.
Taken as a whole, All the Money in the World is a perfectly solid awards season release, despite falling well short of being the sort of Citizen Kane-esque deconstruction of a powerful man (and his legacy) that it aspires to be. Those who are fans of Christopher Plummer, and would like to see him in a movie that makes proper use of his acting chops, may want to give the film a look in theaters, but otherwise it’s not a must-see on the big screen. It will be interesting to see if FX and Danny Boyle’s upcoming limited TV series Trust – which also focuses on John Paul Getty and his family in the 1970s – proves to be more of an insightful character study, by comparison. Even with all that said though, kudos should be given to Scott and his cast/crew for successfully revamping a hefty chunk of the movie less than two months before its theatrical release.
All the Money in the World is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 132 minutes long and is Rated R for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!
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